President Zelenskyy honors Utah’s Honorary Consul to Ukraine, Signs Agreement with UT businessmen during U.S. visit
Sep 21, 2023, 7:40 PM | Updated: 10:27 pm
WASHINGTON D.C. — A Utah man was among those honored by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday at the National Archives. The Ukrainian President was visiting D.C. and called a few Utahns to attend a speech and award ceremony.
Utah’s Honorary Consul, Jonathan Freedman, said he answered a call Sunday night requesting his presence in D.C. with President Zelenskyy. He never expected to receive a presidential award.
“I was really ecstatic, very honored and humbled,” said Freedman. “I was totally surprised.”
Though unexpected, this was not Freedman’s first time meeting Zelenskyy.
Earlier in 2023, Freedman traveled to Ukraine with Utah legislators and businessmen, becoming the first state delegation to visit Ukraine during the war.
“It was heart wrenching,” said Freedman, “but I will tell you that what I saw on that trip was also heartwarming.”
Freedman saw billboards on street corners with Utah’s delicate arch that thanked Utahn’s in Ukrainian.
It’s because Utah, said Freedman, didn’t skip a beat when it came to sending relief efforts.
“Amidst the devastation and the atrocities that we saw, we saw the best of humanity rise up. That’s what I’m most proud of,” said Freedman.
Non-profits like August Mission, To Ukraine With Love and others like Gail Miller, First Lady Abby Cox, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were some of the first to respond to the crisis in Ukraine.
Aaron and Ryan Starks were business owners that jumped in to help.
The Starks started the Utah Aerospace and Defense Association years before the Ukraine crisis. President Zelenskyy invited them to provide drone technology, armored vehicles, satellites, cameras and more.
“They sought us. Utah is quickly becoming a world leader,” said Ryan. “We’re becoming the shining star on the hill and people are seeking us out because of our economy, culture and because of our people.”
On Friday, the Starks met with Zelenskyy to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which is a non-binding agreement between partnering organizations.
“The terms of the agreement are this: we want to continue helping the Ukrainian government win this war, and we’re willing to do that by connecting them with industry partners,” said Aaron.
Part of the agreement involves sourcing F-16 parts and manufactures to Ukraine.
Another part of it involves a plan for rebuilding Ukraine after the war.
“Zelenskyy’s taking the long view on this war,” said Ryan. “He’s looking at the big picture in terms of once the war ends, where can the country be and how they can position themselves for success.”
Both the Starks and Freedman said they support continuing to help Ukraine because of the larger impact their success could have.
Freedman sited the importance of weakening Russia, but also deterring China. He also mentioned the impact Ukraine’s crisis has had on the surrounding European countries.
“I believe that this is an investment that is well worth the American taxpayers getting behind this,” said Freedman.
Zelenskyy’s visit to D.C. surrounded his plea to Congress for additional financial support and weapons.
Freedman said the money already spent by the U.S. has amounted to 5% of the annual defense budget, but it’s not going straight to Ukraine.
“That money is being spent here in the United States, with US defense contractors,” said Freedman. “And then what they’re producing is truly replenishing our own stockpiles.”
When the Starks spoke with President Zelenskyy, they said he was more concerned with post-war life in Ukraine.
“Zelenskyy said the war will be won and he wants to build the world’s smartest country,” said Aaron.
Utah has already invested in Ukraine, and the efforts continue.
To Ukraine With Love hired around 600 Ukrainians to build modular homes for families who’ve lost theirs in the war.
Next week, a group of Ukrainian companies travel to the Beehive State to collaborate with Silicon Slopes.
Freedman said a lot of Utah companies have hired Ukrainian programmers and software engineers, supporting the war efforts through bolstering the Ukrainian economy.
Organizations Freedman recommended donating to: